Thursday, January 11, 2001

Crisis plan

Bureaucrat comes to the rescue

        The term “bureaucrat” generally is used with the same fondness and respect as, say, “politician” or “media” or “pond scum.”

        When you see the word “bureaucratic,” you just know it's going to be followed by something unpleasant. Bureaucratic blunders. Bureaucratic bottle-neck. Bureaucratic foul-ups. Bureaucratic gobbledygook.

        Even Webster, which generally has an even hand in these matters, defines bureaucracy as “a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape and proliferation.”

        A U.S. Army general, who would know about red tape if anybody would, once said, “A bureaucrat's idea of cleaning up his files is to make a copy of every paper before he destroys it.”

        Czar Nicholas I claimed that “I do not rule Russia; 10 thousand clerks do.”

Getting things done
        And the clerks and bureaucrats will rule America while the new Bushies figure out what they're doing. Because bureaucrats really are the fabric of government. Unelected officials. The ones who — perhaps very eventually — get things done.

        Take Suzanne Burke, for instance. Her title is director of administrative services for Hamilton County. Although sometimes she is called the county's budget director, meaning she handles about $2.25 billion. Every year. Somebody else might decide where it's going, but she has to make sure it gets there.

        A very big job.

        But not so big that she didn't have time to listen to the story of Patrick Mason. On the afternoon of Oct. 22, just two weeks shy of his second birthday, Patrick stopped breathing. He was at home. His father, Mike, was at a Bengals game in the new Paul Brown Stadium.

        When he heard his name on the loudspeaker, the frantic young father dialed home. “Mike, you've got to get to Children's Hospital,” his mother-in-law told him. Mike had taken a bus to the game. He doesn't own a cell phone.

        The next 30 minutes were a nightmare, as he tried to make his way out of the stadium and to a cab. No cabs. He began stopping people, asking for help, “anybody who looked nice.” Finally, he found a police officer.

        Patrick died before his father arrived. A congenital heart problem, doctors say. Awful. Heartbreaking. Terrible. “But I ask myself if some good can come of his death. Can't someone devise an emergency plan so nobody else will ever have to go through what I did?”

        Suzanne Burke, a bureaucrat, said she would “investigate.”

Crisis plan
        She did that and more, coming up with a careful plan. An escort. A taxi. Police, if necessary. A central number. It must have taken some time and thought. It's a “procedure we are prepared to implement.” I think that is bureaucratese for getting the job done.

        That is the specialty of the good bureaucrat — doing the work. Cincinnati's City Council would come to a screeching halt without the redoubtable Sandy Sherman, clerk of council. Ditto the county's Board of Commissioners without Jacqueline Panioto, clerk of the board.

        Don Thomas runs the county's Department of Human Services so ably that we took it for granted, until Ohio decided to help with child support payments. Now the office gets about 5,000 complaints a week. I suppose some people would call this bureaucratic bungling.

        But, for what it's worth, Ms. Burke, if Patrick's father ever calls somebody a bureaucrat, it's probably a very big compliment.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


Baby girl in foster care after drop-off
Motive unclear in murder-suicide
The $18 million question: Who will pay?
Bias suits may widen in dispute
Earnings tax stall squeezes budget
School reform testing faulted
- PULFER: Crisis plan
Runway study due within month
Seniors share time, knowledge with kids
CROWLEY: Bring on the crow and ketchup
OK sought for charter schools
Acquitted man faces charge
Alexandria site approved for regional sewage plant
Labs whet taste for science
SAMPLES: Readers react
Annual hikes to observe Martin Luther King Day
Chiquita testimony ordered
CPS considers private-run schools
Judge approves inmate abortions
Motorist faces charge of murder
New kids find a friend
Newport building will be moved, not razed
Pollster may test support for levy
Small businesses get tax refunds
Suspect: “Shoot me, shoot me!”
W. Chester may ask more for police
Winburn: Shirey deserves a pay raise
Kentucky News Briefs
Tristate A.M. Report